Fort Bend County Girl Scout troops are starting a brand-new way to build empathy and improve reading skills.
The new Reading Pals Program, is taking steps to help the animals at Sugar Land Animal Services helping shelter pets become more trusting of people at the same time, which ultimately helps area residents looking for a new family pet.
“It’s a pilot program we are doing with the Girl Scouts” says organizer, animal shelter and Girl Scout volunteer Susie Hyde.
“There is a real transformation in the dogs’ behavior while the girls read to them.”
Her idea started after realizing many residents in Fort Bend County weren’t aware of all services offered at Sugar Land Animal Services. The goal is to ultimately open the program, which is modeled after the Shelter Buddies Reading Program at the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis, to the general public in Sugar Land.
According to Hyde, helping to make the animals more social means they are more likely to be adopted. The program also teaches children empathy for animals and how to be responsible pet owners.
“We tell the girls that they have a really important job when they are reading to the animals – and in this way they are helping the animals to get adopted,” she said.
Improving the Girl Scouts reading skills by reading aloud to the animal is another important part of the program, says Hyde. Research has shown reading to dogs has a positive impact on both the animals and the children who interact with them. According to the University of California Davis study, children who read aloud to dogs for 10 to 15 minutes per week experienced a 12 percent increase in reading proficiency.
Wednesday afternoons from 4-5 p.m., the scouts pull books from the special library devoted to the Reading Pals Program. Each girl chooses a couple of books, with titles like ‘Biscuit Goes to School’ and a story about pet adoption titled ‘Are You Ready For Me?’ The first through fifth graders take turns sitting across from the animal cage and begin reading. More often than not, the animals – after the initial excitement of seeing someone – lay down in the cage to listen to their new human friend.
“The program is a great outreach opportunity to our city’s residents – especially as we are working toward building our new shelter,” Hyde said.
As part of the Animal Shelter Expansion project, an existing building from Mayfield Park was relocated to the Animal Shelter on Gillingham Lane in Sugar Land. The building was renovated and is now called Whiskerville, a 2,400 sq. foot Animal Services building to house cats and kittens. The existing 4,300 sq. foot Animal Services building has been renamed Barksburg and is home to dogs and puppies.
“We thought this was an excellent opportunity. It kind of works together – with them being able to practice their reading, and see what it’s like to give back as well.”, says Tuyet Nguyen, who brought her daughter Emma to the program this week.